Monday, April 16, 2007

Ducks, Submissions and Heaney

My neighbor discovered one duck on his roof between the TV and wireless satellites. I don't know if the duck had a Blackberry and was wired in, but he soon disappeared from that roost as well. The bowl of feed and hard-boiled egg the duck lady assured me he loved to eat went untouched. The duck has not returned; his brother never did.

Live and learn, but I won't be raising ducks anytime soon again here.

The story of the Good Friday Elephant that LKD posted in yesterday's comments was much worse.

I've noticed that since my depression improved, fewer and fewer folks seem to be coming to the site. Mental illness is much more interesting than poetry, I suppose, though often the two are not very far apart. Or maybe there are people out there who actually care about me, so when I'm doing well they are less likely to stop by.

Right now I'm in a holding pattern emotionally. I almost cried yesterday afternoon while fishing, but I think there was a reason--Kathleen was sad over her son's birthday, he being in Mexico; I was sad at being rejected by Pedestal Magazine (again), though they have published me in the past, and I was also sad that my youngest daughter (18) doesn't communicate with me, despite the fact I opened up a My Space site just to message her (she doesn't return my calls.) Teenagers. Kathleen says I should be angry about it but I can't be angry with my baby. Just sad she doesn't call.

But on another day when my mood was more upbeat these things would not have brought me near tears. It's the soil, not the seeds.

Today I may have to testify against our former neighbors about their thievery, as I saw the stolen items in their house and told a detective about it when questioned. It's a long drive on treacherous roads to the county courthouse, but I'll do my duty if they call me. I'm on hold. They hoped to choose a jury this morning and begin with testimony this afternoon. Fat chance, I say. Then I'm from LA. Maybe small towns get it done more quickly?

I really have not have good luck with my poetry submissions of late. In fact, I've never had worse luck. I think the main issue is style, not skill. Editors seem to favor open, inductive poems, and I write more deductive poems, some of them closed. To increase my publication rate, which used to be quite high, I think I'm going to have to change my style to suit the times: regurgitate an actual experience with as many particulars as possible in as short a space as possible, cut it into lines, and add a feeling or two for spice and authenticity.

I can't do it. I mean, I can do it, I find it rather easy--but it is not my idea of what is best. I've been reading Seamus Heaney, and although he is not my favorite poet, I admire his skill, and he writes many deductive poems and his intellectual content is usually satisfying. He is not dominated by recounting unfettered experience. I don't know how he'd ever get into the New Yorker if he weren't a Nobel Laureate. His style is all wrong for them. But everyone knows the NY is a "label whore."

I wanted to post another poem on ordinariness today, but I have so few and could not find another that qualified--I mean, in poetry, we usually seek the exceptional. Even if the experience seems ordinary, we tend to focus on the exceptional part. Instead I offer an apostrophe to editors who pass over my poetry. The poets who browse these pages should readily identify.

To the Giants

I see you in the exalted journals,
astonished by your concrete subjects,
startling imagery and veiled conclusions.
Only you can do this. Others try
to cage what has to soar. You tie
one-pound-test to it and set it free
When the line breaks you have a poem.
I’ve seen you write four hundred lines
on roasted meat, a hundred on zucchinis.
You can make poetry out of a dishcloth.

I sent my work to one of you once.
Your secretary wrote me: "Mr. S-
no longer comments on others' work
because of his busy schedule."
I thought your next book sucked.
I swear the two events were not related.

Maybe you remember
how it was before you "made it?"
I thought if I could slide one poem
beneath your discriminating nose
I'd have a chance. Instead I drop
rectangular white prayers in mailboxes
and change commemoratives for luck.
When the rejection slips arrive
I file them under "What the editors missed."
They read the same. say, invariably:
"We regret your work does not suit
our publication’s needs at this time."
As if! As if they had needs!
As if it were a matter of timing!

I dream of an editor
in a blue paisley suit who likes martinis
rummaging through the slush pile.
She finds my poem about the possum.
Her cat-eye glasses slip her bridge,
eyes squint like commas. Another martini
and she thinks "Why not?" until the Glucks,
Merwins and Ashberys start levitating
from her in-box to divide
the sorcerers from the apprentices.

"I have so little time," she thinks,
"and this is not the time for risks—
subscriptions are static, the board is short
of funds, besides, even angstrom-thin pages
could not accommodate all the deserving.
Prides already war over my bleached savannas.
If another craves entrance, let him
bring rains like Elijah, make the ink run."

(Published in Afternoon, Tintern Abbey, and Poetry Superhighway)

At Two Kilobats,



  1. Anonymous4:44 AM PDT

    You must have some sort of visitor counter to know if fewer people are showing up.
    Maybe you are right that more of your readers are attracted by drama than the quiet dissemination of your poetic labor and knowledge. Imho thou it is your blog, your means of expression, one of your ways to reach out and not necessarily written with the primary purpose of entertaining the reader.
    Personally I come visit like with neighbors when they’re sitting outside, share some news, talk a little about this and that, absorb some of their knowledge, their story and feel community.
    Where else can I find out about your ongoing saga and learn about your inductive/deductive, open/closed way to look at poetry and more to boot. When else would I take time to read a little poetry, even get goaded into reading an essay on Eliot (and re-read it, ‘cause you revised it). Your talents and intellectual capacity may be way over my head, but its fun to be stimulated and ride along. Besides, by now I’d visit your blog just for the comments (Norm, where have you been). An anon party would be a blast.
    I even like your absence. Then I know your too busy with primary experience. Yes.
    Sorry about Kathleens sadness. I hope, that situation will change for the better. As a mother she must be torn. What a neat idea to reach Sarah through MySpace. Give her time. She’ll be glad to have you for a dad. There’ll still be enough time.
    Thanks for blogging C.E. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for adding to my life.

  2. Dear Anon,

    You are too sweet. The numbers thing was prompted by Twitches stating at her blog what average number of hits per day she was receiving, and it tempted me to peek at my site counter as well, though the purpose of my blog, initially, was more for therapy than entertaining others. I was lost in Mexico fighting the Mexican justice system to get my deaf-wife's hearing ear dog back from kidnappers, and I won! But after that and many other ordeals I returned to the U.S., and upon finding my roosting place, fell into a year-long depression, from which I am still recovering.

    All this to say that the mention of numbers is immaterial, in that I don't write to gain numbers. On the other hand, everyone likes to know whether anyone is reading them--it's only human nature.

    Sam, why you do this to me? I'm compulsive enough to comply, damn it!

  3. What poems from Heaney have you been reading? Just out of curiosity, since he is one of my favorites, and I'm sometimes surprised (though I guess I should know better) to discover how many American poets haven't read his work, at all.

    If you've read District and Circle, how do you think it compares to his earlier poetry?


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